Album Saturday — Rush Hour, part I

First of all I need to mention that I’m not the utmost Rush fan. There’s something about their style that just doesn’t seem right. Still, Rush is a band highly appreciated by many, so I thought I needed to get over it and have a listen to their albums. As I sail through the years, I’ll try to understand whether there is actually something wrong with Rush, or whether there is just something wrong with me.

What may have spawned that feeling is that Rush seem to have a quite distinguishable style, and their sound is different from that of the other bands. Therefore it might be easy to take a stance for or against this band.

Rush — Rush
★★★★

This is the first album by Rush, way before they went prog. The album starts with a driving piece, Finding My Way, perhaps the best song of the album. This blues drive continues then throughout the album, and the songs feel connected to each other — even though this is no concept album — and good mood is in the air. The Led Zeppelin influence seems evident, yet they fail to get close to Zeppelin‘s level of mastery. The guitar solos are ok, but they could have been much better, and the compositions miss that particular “hook” phrase to be remembered by. Anyway, there’s nothing particularly dissatisfying with their first album, although there’s no song that would really stand out either.

Rush — Fly By Night
★★★

In this album the rising progginess can be heard right away in Anthem. As their first work was quite straightforward and not particularly interesting musically, I like how this album features more complex and entertaining guitar riffs. By Tor & The Snow Dog is their first song that could count as progressive, consisting of different parts and lasting for over 8 minutes, featuring nice stops and changes of pace, showing a glimple of the true potential the band possessed. Yet not all of the songs are quite that accomplished. The song by which the album was named, Fly By Night, meeked in comparison with the preceeding epic. Making Memories seemed more like a modern rock dilemma, something you end up listening to because there’s nothing better on the radio. I also appreciate the effort of making tribute to Tolkien with their song Rivendell, and the lyrics are fine too, but just a bunch of picked chords doesn’t cut it for a tune. And In The End came the outrageous mass-oriented whining I hate the most. All in all, the feeling I got from listening to Fly By Night didn’t match their debut album.

Rush — Caress of Steel
★★★☆

This album starts off a good foot with Bastille Day. The riff feels interesting but not too intimidating. I Think I’m Going Bald sounds just right, and the passages might be something that Zeppelin themselves would love to play. And with that I would say it’s their best song so far. But that was only until The Necromancer came along, a 12 minute epic, which they managed to keep sounding grave and stylish. In my opinion it could have used a little more decoration in the beginning, and the fast guitar solo in the middle stopped way too suddenly, but that is fine.

The progginess unexpectedly continues with The Fountain Of Lamneth, an even longer, 20 minute piece, which finally brings out the true colours of the band. It’s still partly very simple for my taste, the drum solo could have been better, and slow piece the fourth part of the epic, Panacea, is not exactly what I liked to hear, but far better in comparison to Rivendell, a similar piece in their previous album. Moreover, the six parts of the epic don’t fuse with each other but fade out before the next part, kind of slicing the song into little pieces. But those were all quite a trifle — all in all I enjoyed this work.

Rush — 2112
★★★★

This album begins with 2112, the first piece I got to know Rush by. The beginning grabs the listener in right away, and doesn’t leave place for second thoughts. It’s great to see the band grow this much from their first proggy try-outs in Caress of Steel. Rush are more experimental than ever, the stops between the parts don’t feel too rushed (what a pun!) and even the solos fall right. 2112 is a true work of art.

Even judging by the rest of the songs on the album, Rush have become far more polished since their debut, especially their guitar solos have improved. A Passage to Bangkok is a goofy song, but it features tasty riffs, and has that “hook” to be remembered by. The Twilight Zone has become another favourite of mine, the whispering into the left ear works, and the band manages to create an eerie atmosphere. Sadly Tears fall into the same category with Rivendell and kind of ruin the whole mood, so I’m forced to only give 4/5 to this album.

Rush — A Farewell to Kings
★★★★☆

A Farewell to Kings begins, well… With A Farewell to Kings. And with A Farewell to Kings thou canst see and hear how much, much better their guitar solos have become. The next ten-minute piece Xanadu also shows Rush have matured and continue to uphold the level they’ve achieved in 2112, or perhaps have gone even further. Closer to the Heart first starts like any other wimpy love song, but that mistake gets corrected along the way. Cinderella Man is nothing supreme, but demonstrates once again that Rush can handle those guitar solos now. Madrigal sounds just like in could be a part of the 2112 epic, so with nothing new to be heard there, I proclaim it to be the worst piece of the album. Otherwise this A Farewell to Kings was highly satisfactory, and the best one by Rush so far, ending with an amazing first “book” of Cygnus X-1, just to be continued with “Book II” in their next album, Hemispheres.

Rush have become steadily better, as you might see from the ratings I’ve given to their albums. And I’ve also seen Hemispheres a lot everywhere. I’m having high hopes for their perhaps best album. Can they hit the full mark? I can’t wait…

Rush — Hemispheres
★★★★★

I guess I wasn’t left disappointed. I’m still amazed with the progress this band has made. They’ve grown into a full-fledged prog band, and their compositions on this album sound smooth and clean, yet powerful. Cygnus X-1 proved to be a whole lot better than 2112 even, which sounds still rough and unpolished. Practice makes the master, as they say. Rush have succeeded in creating their own universe with this album, and set the listener to experience a feeling well described by a quote “I am dead, and yet on board.”

What differs this Rush album (and partially A Farewell to Kings as well) from their earlier work is the variety of sounds they produce. Of course, that variety is not even close to the 40 instruments used by Gentle Giant in their album Acquiring the Taste, but the amount of sounds Rush use here provides them with a richer, more mesmerising sound.

Book II of Cygnus is followed by Circumstances, a wonderfully powerful song, then The Trees the have charmed my soul (“There is unrest in the forest”… love that rhyme), and finally La Villa Strangiato, a mesmerizing instrumental that has been one of my favourites for a long time already. This album doesn’t have anything that would displease me, and I know this sounds too good too be true, but this album deserves my full mark, and I’m happy to contribute to this little fairytale of a band slowly but steadily rising towards perfection.

 

So, what can I say about Rush in the end? I can say that I was wrong. They are a worthy band, and it seems like I had previously only stumbled upon their lesser, early works. I can’t wait to continue with Part II of their albums, especially Moving Pictures that is considered to be the peak of their age. Oh, and there are the Permanent Waves in between too. This should be grand!

Read the second part of the Rush reviews here.

Pentangle — The Pentangle

Pentangle — The Pentangle
★★★★☆

I’ve been meaning to write about these guys for a while already. One day I went searching for more bands like Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span — folk rock with a strong female lead — and it’s no wonder that I found Pentangle. What they do is they mix things together. On the 5 ends of their pentangle star you can find folk, rock, blues, even jazz, and finally some magic of their own. Their debut album The Pentangle brought something new to my life, and that’s the thing I cherish most.

Amon Düül II — Carnival in Babylon ; Premiata Forneria Marconi — Per un amico

Amon Düül IICarnival in Babylon
★★★★☆

This album by Amon Düül II is extremely underrated. The only reason I can think of is that this band’s fan base grew too accustomed to their crazy music. Amon Düül II are a krautrock band that is well known from their surrealistic themes and a very distinctive, experimental style. Their music often feels to be completely out of this world — but less so in this album (yet still very much out of this world). In spite of all the listeners’ expectations, Carnival in Babylon contains music that is harmonic, coherent and understandable.  This eccentric team has proven here, that they can make “normal” compositions which sound full and entertaining, yet are easier and more pleasant to the ear (if only you forget about the awkward voice of their male singer, the only reason why this album hasn’t scored full points). And there isn’t anything wrong with sounding pleasant — I had a wonderful, blissful time listening to this pack of joy.

 

Premiata Forneria MarconiPer un amico
★★★★

On the other hand, I was a little surprised to find that Per un amico, the second album by Premiata Forneria Marconi is considered to be a classic in the Prog Rock world (#15 on progarchives.com). Even on Allmusic, a full mark was given by most of the listeners. And I can partly agree with that, since there are some pretty amazing parts on this album, like the bestowing beginning of the first track Appena un ‘po, which to my disappointment worsened along the way. The follow-up Generale doesn’t fuse together with the previous track and disturbs the listening experience. Il Banchetto is quite good, and sounds like something Emerson, Lake and Palmer would make, but lesser. When I was listening to that track, I kept imagining all the different passages that felt as if they were left out. The album ends, however, with the brilliant Geranio, in which the alterations in the volume level become a significant part of the melody. Therefore don’t get the wrong impression: 4 stars is still a very high score, and Per un amico is an album definitely worth listening to. But in my opinion it just doesn’t stand among the best there is.

Pink Fairies — Finland Freakout

Pink FairiesFinland Freakout
★★★

Finland mentioned! Therefore I just had to listen to this live album. The performance in question was recorded back in 1971 on the annual Finnish rock festival in Turku that is called Ruisrock (translates literally as Rye Rock), but the live album was only released recently in 2008.

I don’t know whether it had something to do with the quality of the recording, but it turned out to be just noise for the most part, even if a pleasing noise of a sort. Yet the noise had reached its momentary perfection during the guitar solo in Uncle Harry’s Last Freakout, where the distortion levels just killed my ears, but the experience was definitely worth all the damage taken. Listen to it at your own risk! For a quick access to the ear killing part you can scroll to 8.20 in the song.

Pink Fairies — What a Bunch of Sweeties

Pink FairiesWhat a Bunch of Sweeties
★★★★

My understanding can’t cope with someone who would rate this album with 2.5/5 stars on Allmusic. Maybe he had a problem with Uranus: the album features two funny tracks that may disturb the musical experience. Another reason for such a low score might be, that the A-side of the record features the guys experimenting with the traditional rock’n’roll scheme, while on the B-side their style changes to proto-metal, and quite abruptly so. In spite of all that, this album rocks! The amount of juicy guitar is overwhelming — be sure to check it out.

 

Eloy — Eloy (album)

EloyEloy (album)
★★★☆

This is the eponymous debut album by the German symphonic rock band Eloy, released in 1971. Later on they have adopted a more melodical approach to music, but in this album they still sound close to what most Krautrock bands did: crude and powerful. Yet, even though I usually like this “raw” sound, here it gets somewhat tiresome, feels somehow out of place, and the compositions feel like they are missing something instead. Due to this reason I couldn’t pick any track that would actually shine amongst others. Nevertheless, I quite enjoyed this album, and I’m keen on exploring Eloy‘s other works as well.

Album Friday? — Summary

Gentle Giant — Three Friends
★★★★☆

Gentle Giant have failed to disappoint me once again. Three Friends possesses far less diversity in sound than its predecessor, Acquiring the Taste, yet the pieces are smoother and more coherent. In case you felt their previous albums have been too hectic and incomprehensive, you should give this album a go. The amazing Prologue will draw you in immediately and hold you captive right until the end of the album.

Can — Monster Movie
★★★★★

The music at the end of 60’s and in the beginning of 70’s has always been extremely diverse – there were many experimentalists. Yet the anti-mainstream rock movement in Germany, known as Krautrock or Kosmische Musik (space music), had spawned something entirely different. Can is one of such groups, their music style resembling such bands as Caravan or Soft Machine, just as psychedelic and spacish, yet the difference lies in the over-distorted guitar they use on the background. There are only 4 songs on the album, but each of them is a marvelous composition, simultaneously relaxing and exciting the mind. Crowned by a twenty minute long epic Yoo Doo Right, this debut album deserves the full mark. There will be more Can reviews written by me in the near future.

Toe Fat — Toe Fat 2
★★★★

Previously I included the first Toe Fat album among the One Album Wonders list, but I was mistaken – this band had yet another album published. However, the Uriah Heep star Ken Hensley was not participating in the making of this sequel. The drummer Lee Kerslake also left the band, joining Uriah Heep later in 1971, and was replaced by Brian Glascock. Nevertheless the band continues with hard rock and distorted guitars and simple but nice compositions suited for solos and powerful riffs, having added some slower bluesy jams in between like There’ll Be Changes and A New Way. This is a consistent album that fits well to a casual working day.

Jefferson Starship — Red Octopus
★★★

According to Wikipedia, this album was the best sold in the Jefferson history, or by any of its spin-off groups. I was surprised to know that Surrealistic Pillow, the legendary second Jefferson Airplane album, wasn’t at the top. In addition to that, the album also contained their highest charting single, Miracles. I didn’t believe it when I first heard it – this simple and lousy tune wasn’t worth the honour. Most disappointingly, similar poppish cryouts can be heard in every second song on the album.

These are nowhere close the folk instrumental Git Fiddler, or Sweeter Than Honey — another nice, driving piece. Yet I too can say the songs I mentioned just aren’t the right material to become popular. Why do the simplest tunes always make it mainstream? All in all, even though a couple of good pieces can be found here and there, this album didn’t meet my expectations at all. The first Jefferson Starship album, Dragon Fly, has much more class.

ABBA — Ring Ring

ABBARing Ring
★★★

Once upon a time, I decided to listen to ABBA. It’s been a while since I volitionally listened to such “easy” music (in contrast to Zappa, Krautrock or Mahavishnu Orchestra, just to mention a few). Surprisingly enough, I found myself enjoying this album, especially the B-side of it, which was far less dance-floor oriented than its A-side counterpart. The songs are well done, and there’s some variety in the style too, from the rocking Ring Ring to the slower and mind-soothing I Am Just a Girl, yet they’re still too simple for my taste. Also, most annoyingly, almost all of them were about love, and love alone. Yet here’s an exception from this rule, one of the reasons why I picked He Is Your Brother as my favourite track on this album.

Iron Butterfly — In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (album)

Iron ButterflyIn-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (album)
★★★★☆

This album is widely known by its 17 minute B-side epic of the same name. Yet the A-side tunes don’t disappoint either, and the album ensures a fully fledged heavy psych experience. There was one song which I didn’t quite like though, called Termination. Oddly enough, upon investigating the matter it revealed to be the only track which wasn’t composed by Doug Ingle, the pianist and lead vocalist of the band.

Since everyone has heard In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida anyway (in case you haven’t, tend to it at once!), I’m putting another song from this album for display. Are you happy?

Album Saturday: Frank Zappa — Summary

Yesterday I tried to pull off a full scale Frank Zappa show. The idea was to play five albums in a row: Absolutely Free, Lumpy Gravy, We’re Only in It For The Money, Cruising with Ruben & the Jets and Uncle Meat.

However, in comparison to Joe’s Garage, Hot Rats and Freak Out!, these albums proved to be far more paranoid than I could imagine. After listening to the third album, I had to give up listening to the rest due to a strong headache. For the future, I thought I’d restrain myself to only one Zappa album a day.

The Mothers of InventionAbsolutely Free
★★★★

When I wrote about unbearably paranoid music, it didn’t quite yet include this album. Although you can clearly feel the “stream of consciousness” with which Zappa writes his songs, this is a well balanced concept album with funny lyrics, talks about vegetables, etc. The seven minute long instrumental Invocation & Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin was especially to my liking.

Frank Zappa and the Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra — Lumpy Gravy (reedited 1968 version)
★★☆

This album begins with Duodenum, a nice makeover of Apache, and ends in a mind-soothing piece Take Your Clothes Off, which is probably supposed to relieve you from the pain you acquire in between. Indeed, this album gives you a headache on a sunny day. Is this even music? You might be better off considering this album to be a piece of art that portrays a paranoid state of mind. There’s too much speaking and random elements, too little of what I would call actual songs or compositions. Lumpy Gravy does have some interesting pieces like Envelops The Bath Tub, and it’s good to hear once, but… I Don’t Know If I Can Go Through This Again

The Mothers of Invention— We’re Only in It For The Money

The Mothers of Invention seem to prevent Zappa from going completely paranoid, yet the songs still jump from one style to another, a feature which irritates rather than pleases (and doesn’t help the headache either). However it still is amazing how a human mind could come up with music like this. The brilliancy of Zappa is his ability to come up with stuff that’s completely different from anything else, music from a different existence, which it yet for us to hear. If you feel tired with music in general, listen to this.

I will love the police as they kick the shit out of me on the street.” — Who Needs The Peace Corps?

There were some problems with the latter half of the album, so I will leave this album unmarked for now.